Manager of football squad for Rio optimistic

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Manager of football squad for Rio optimistic

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Korean Olympics football squad manager Shin Tae-yong talks during the press conference held on Tuesday. Shin is going to the Olympics cautiously optimistic. [NEWSIS]

The manager of Korea’s Olympics football squad was cautiously optimistic at an event on Tuesday marking 100 days before the games officially kick off.

“We will spend the next 100 days preparing, and perhaps we can repeat how the team did during the 2012 London Olympics,” said Shin Tae-yong.

“But we will play each game as though it is the final match. We will not let our guard down even for a second.”

The team for the 2012 Olympics made Korean history by becoming the first to come home with a medal, bringing back bronze.

The team, led by the manager Hong Myung-bo, was stacked with players like Koo Ja-cheol of Augsburg FC of the Bundesliga and Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City of the Premier League. It also included FC Seoul’s forward Park Chu-young as one of the three wild cards, or players over 23 years old permitted to join the otherwise U-23 squad.

Although stakes are high, the Taegeuk Warriors are optimistic going into Rio with Son Heung-min of the Tottenham Hotspurs expected to join as a wild card, boosting the team’s offensive capabilities.

Korea is in Group C and is slated to play Fiji on Aug. 5, Germany on Aug. 8 and Mexico on Aug.11.

“When I visited Brazil to watch the draw for the preliminary stage and to investigate the fields of the different venues, I thought to myself: if we go at each game thinking it will be our last, we could see good results,” said Shin.

Shin participated in the Olympics in 1992 as an attacking midfielder and played all three matches in the preliminary stage, during which the Korean team tied with Morocco, Paraguay and Sweden. The team failed to advance to the knockout stage.

When asked about his team’s defensive capabilities, Shin said, “I hear a lot from the media that our team’s defense is unstable. I agree I think we need to strengthen our defensive capabilities in order to emerge successful from the summer games. Typically, a football team with a solid defense produces good result. What’s difficult is that some of the players in my squad from K-League teams do not see much playing time in the pro league. I think we need to do a lot of conditioning during the final stage of our preparations. I think for offense, Hwang Hee-chan of Austrian team Red Bull Salzburg will become an important asset.

Korea’s team was defeated by archrival Japan in the final match of the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in January, conceding three goals towards the end of the match and exposing its weakness in defense.

Still, the manager says the loss was a good lesson.

“If we meet Japan again in the Olympics, we will make sure we play better than before,” he said. “We will not lose our focus even for a second and let the game slip by.”

Shin said he can’t promise that the team will outperform the 2012 squad, but by going hard from the get-go against Fiji, he expressed confidence they’d at least match the results. Still, he emphasized that anything could go wrong at any moment.

The manager didn’t say much when asked about the remaining two wild-card spots, but he did say they’ll be used to boost Korea’s defensive lineup. He suggested that Augsburg’s central defender Hong Jeong-ho could be added to the squad, but that he is still in discussion with Uli Stielike, the senior national team manager, as well as Lee Yong-soo, the head of the Korea Football Association’s technical committee.

For the nation’s male athletes, medaling at big international events like the Olympics is more than just an honor - it also gives them exemption from their mandatory military service. This is a big drive for players, as it would allow them to focus solely on playing football. Many of the wild-card candidates have already received an exemption the military exemption after the last Olympics.

The team will travel to Brazil on July 16 to begin final preparations for the summer games.

BY PARK LIN, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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